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Yogacharya

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Yoga Props: A help, or a hindrance?

I’ve heard many pros and cons from both sides of the yoga props debate. Since most every yoga teacher has been trained in a yoga approach that either uses them, or doesn’t, naturally there is bias all around. …





Rarely do I encounter those who has have significantly broad enough yoga training and experience to be able to make a balanced assessment of the topic.

Recently, though, I received this email from a yoga teacher in Australia who does, and here she relates her experiences from both sides of the fence:

“I was trained in the {removed} yoga method, where props are heavily relied upon for many of the practices. I’d been practicing this way for almost nine years, and also taught with the same approach. Last year, I lost my fulltime job and so I decided that I would take a break and go to India to try and study more yoga.

I made a real effort to find teachers who viewed and practiced yoga differently than I did. After a few hits and misses, I finally met a teacher whom I liked (or was it a teacher who liked me?) and ended up studying under him for the next 8 months.

He immediately insisted that I drop my yoga props (I did bring my yoga strap with me). I was open minded and wanted to see just what he had to teach, so I tucked it neatly away into the bottom of my backpack (where I could still find it in case I “needed” it again).

His approach to yoga was certainly not what I was used to. He kept telling me to let go of my “obsession” with my body. His asanas, to me, seemed rather loose; even a bit sloppy. I wanted precision in alignment. That was what I was used to.

After only a few days, a bit of a struggled began to come up inside of me. I wanted my props back! But I was determined to not follow the same old patterns in my life; to run away when I wasn’t happy; to look elsewhere when I wasn’t getting what I thought I wanted. So I persevered, and after a few weeks I actually did start to let go of my fixation with “the perfect pose.” In fact, once I “let go” and “opened up” to this man and his teaching, my body started to do the same.

My attitude toward using yoga props in my practice has completely changed now. Once I thought that I needed them. Now I know that I didn’t; I was dependant on them. In many ways, my body feels a lot lighter now. I am able to attain certain poses that I had never quite been comfortable in before, even with supports.

I do think that using yoga props has a certain place, for a certain type of practitioner; but as a general means, as a continuous way to practice yoga, I no longer subscribe so much to it. The way I teach has changed now too, obviously. I’m happy to be able to share this broader experience with them now, and in general, I would say that most of them are quite happy about it too …

I just wanted to share that with your readers …”

From time to time I come across people who express similar opinions to me; those who have first been schooled in the use of yoga aids such as bolster, blocks, straps and chairs, and later experienced a different approach to the practice of yoga asanas.

I have also had personal experience with the use of yoga props in practice, and have mixed feeling about the frequency of their use in yoga today. I would agree that in some cases the use of supports do have a valuable place, for instance when using yoga asanas as part of an injury rehabilitation program, or during convalescence.

In other cases, however, it’s possible that the yoga prop may in fact take something away from the practice of yoga. I have seen otherwise healthy students progress in their ability to perform various yoga techniques at a slower rate when relying heavily on their use.

Why might this be so?

First of all, there is a tendency in the Western mind, whether conscious or unconscious, to view yoga a sort of an “exotic form of physiotherapy.” By that, I mean that the practices and techniques of yoga are viewed largely from an anatomical and physiological perspective. We just can’t help looking at the physical structures and continuing to make assessments of these practices based on our Western perspective of health and fitness.

One very important point, however, that a yoga pose is not only concerned with the anatomical structures or physiological functions of the body. Thus, simple “getting into the proper position” is not the only goal of any asana. It may not even be the most important objective. There are many more dimensions to the practice of asana, and as yoga practitioners, we have to be willing to move beyond a fixation with the physical and physiological. The practices and techniques of yoga are “means” and not “ends”.

Our modern love affair with the yoga prop may not fade quickly though. Like the young lady whose email I shared with you, the attachments to yoga props; mats, strap and blocks, bolsters and supports, can be difficult to let go of.

Remember, though, that yoga is really about overcoming our attachments. It is a process of self discovery that requires no aid other than an ambition to grow beyond our previous limitations – limitations of both body and mind.

So go outside and find yourself a nice patch of grass… take off your shoes… sit down… close your eyes… take a deep breath… and practice some yoga. It’s easier than you might think.


About the Author:

Yogacharya is the director of International Yogalayam, and Editor of The Yoga News


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